Terribly uneven chess match between a hopeless criminal and his equally bad counterpart – A story

Clik, clak, clik, clak, clik, clak. Clik clik clik clak, cink.

Sound of fingers dancing on the buttons of a typewriter resonated from the walls of a tiny room. There were two men sitting in a dim light. The other one who sat on a chair by the wall, was smoking whilst desperately clutching at his hat. He was sweating heavily. The man behind the typewriter seemed more at ease, fully focused on the writing. He was wearing simple pants with shoulder straps and a blue shirt with no tie. His coffee had gone cold long ago, by now it became hardly edible.

Clak, clak, clak, clak, clik. Cink. Clik, clak.

Every clik seemed to make the sweaty man flinch, but to the writer it had gone unnoticed.
The sweaty man grew anxious with every moment. He would fearsomely clutch at the hat, he would caress his moustache, he would occasionally grab and scratch his crotch. He moved in the chair restlessly as a kindergarten kid that was forced to sit still for ten minutes as a punishment. Cigarettes turned to ashes in great quantities and the air became barely breathable.
The writer coughed.
“So, Jim. Do you have a plan?”
“WHAT? DO I HAVE A PLAN? ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME? I COME HERE TO ASK YOU WHAT SHOULD I DO IN THIS FUCKED UP SITUATION, AND YOU KNOW IT DAMN WELL, AND YOU STILL HAVE THE AUDACITY TO ASK ME IF I HAVE A PLAN?”
“Historically, shouting won no wars Jim. Especially shouting at allies.”
“FUCK HISTORY AND FUCK YOUR WITTICISM.”
“Look, Jim, no matter what I tell you to do, you are simply not going to do it. And you have to understand that.”
“Oh yeah, what should I do?”
“You should show some decent manners and smoke outside. I respect that you enjoy killing yourself, nevertheless I do resent being dragged into it.”
“This is the only thing that has kept me sane Paul, I ain‘t quitting.”
“Nobody talks about quitting, I talk about smoking outside.”
“Lil‘ smoke is not gonna kill you.”
Paul sighed.
“You‘ve always been a tough, stubborn fellow.”
“Yeah, those days are gone, my friend. I am losing my ground.”
Shades and bags below his eyes showed how tired he was.
“How big?”
“Pretty big. You know, when shit hits the fan, things crumble. And they crumble all the way.”
“So we are talking major business, eh?”
“Major and real. As real as it gets, damn it.”
“Jim, what is your backup?”
“I have no backup, that‘s why I‘m here!”
“How come you have no backup? We‘ve talked about it years ago!”
“Yeah, we did. But you‘ve got no backup either, so I figured I could get along just as well.”
“But you couldn‘t.”
“Well, now I know it too, for Christ‘s sake. It‘s my life on the line! What would you do, Paul, what is your strategy when shit goes south? Tell me, I‘ll do everything, every single step to get outta this slump!”
“There is none.”
“FUCK YOU!”
“Maybe you should smoke a cigarette, after all.”
“Yeah? Now you talkin‘ eh?”
“Jim, I am a man of options. I pick a route, I follow it with the utmost determination, but I always, ALWAYS, keep other options opened. Life can take my queen, but it better know that it‘s covered by a knight and a bishop.”
“What‘s that?”
“Never mind. Would you like something to drink?”
“What you got in there?”
“Water, bourbon and coffee.”
“This place of yours sucks as an office, it sucks as a confessional and it definitely sucks as a bar. I‘ll go with the bourbon, thanks.”

Paul got up from the table and stretched his legs. He glanced at the untouched cup of coffee gone solid cold and thought how long has it been since 6.30 p.m. cartoons, he used to watched with his son, passed. Too long, he reckoned. He left Jim in the room and walked out heading to the coffee machine. Double espresso should be just fine. His light curses were drowned out by the noise of the grinder.
What a precarious situation he thought.
They‘ve been friends for many years, good friends at that, albeit different. You know how it goes – a friendship from kindergarten that should have broken in their early twenties, but somehow it didn‘t.
Jim was messy, pretending to have everything under control. His mind was far from clear, his wits too slow and he all too much relied on prayers. He had a good heart, though, despite his business.
Paul was the real laid-back person. Contemplative, smart, relying more on improvisation in the present moment rather than on the cautious planning. Cold and rational, those were his words. Men, especially those from the business, appreciated it. Women, well women ran away, crying.
A few years back they became business partners, a decision that was about to prove itself to be terminal for both.
Unless there is a way to flip it around.
The double espresso was done & ready to step into the heart‘s corner and help it through the next few rounds. He took bourbon bottle from the cupboard along with two glasses.
I may need some as well.

When Paul got back to the room, Jim was still seated, face in hands.
A sight of a broken man.
Jim looked up.
“‘bout damn fucking time. What were you doing back there, triple mojito for your secretaries?”
A broken man who can still bite. That‘s good.
“You know I have none in here.”
“No secretaries?”
“No mint.”
“Aye, mojito makes no sense without a mint, I‘ll give you that. Here, let me pour the bourbon.”
He did as he said.
“Hahaha, real classy Jim. Filling the whole glass up… Like Nino Valenti did in The Godfather, although he had the money, he had the girls, he had the success. What he didn‘t have was New York City, it‘s hard to get one of these in California. You do remind me of Nino, Jim.”
“Don‘t think that I am short on information. Not this time. The Godfather is my freaking bible pal. Now let me tell you this. Nino was a desperate, pathetic chump, broken in the spirit, who drank himself to death. That ain‘t my case, you understand? I‘m facing some real shit, like I‘m shaking hands with the devil himself while you are taking cover behind your typewriter and behind a fucking company name.”
Jim was leaning forward, grunting and making threatening gestures.
“Don‘t pretend to be safe. You know it goddamn well. Once the case is blown, they‘ll know who wrote all those articles ‘bout them. They‘ll finally know where to channel their wrath. And these guys are mad, pal” spat Jim a gulped down some bourbon.
“Don‘t you ever, ever, threaten me again, Jim.
“You think I‘m gonna hand you over to soften my fall? Don‘t be stupid Paul” he snorted in response.
I might very well do the exact same thing myself.
“So what‘s your next move?”
“I told you I don‘t fucking know! What do you suggest?!”
“I suggest you withdraw when you still have time and hide until the excitement disappears.”
“After all those years, after all those favours, you are going to throw me off the board?! ARE YOU FUCKING MAD?”
“I can‘t hold you on top forever, Jim. I can only help you rise once more. I can build a Babylon tower right under your arse. Today, however, I am powerless.”
“For Pete‘s sake I cannot believe my ears Paulie!” shouted Jim, gulped down some more of the cheap bourbon and helped himself to the bottle. Paul‘s glass remained untouched, not the coffee though. Paul started to feel the anxiety.
Too much caffeine, not again. Not now…
I‘ve been using pseudonyms. I am not on the official payroll. I don‘t exist. Only my “boss” knows and handing me over would get him into serious trouble with the bureaus. I‘m safe. But then what am I afraid of? I am bulletproof! Jim doesn‘t know. Jim knows shit. He always does.

“What‘s goin‘on in the smart head of yours? In times like these, you always knew the way out, to the light. Have you gotten old? Is there some girl whispering into your ears? I saw the way you look at them, Paul. I know you are into something with them young ones, and it‘s fine by me, I don‘t judge you, you are my friend. Just don‘t let them afflict your mind, not now.”
As he was getting drunk, Jim was getting more relaxed, at least a little. He‘s put the hat back on his head in a clumsy way that made him look like a stand-up comedian imitating mafia hit man. His shirt & tie were loose around his neck and he was no longer caressing his moustache, just scratching his balls. His eyes though… his eyes still reflected fear and anxiety. Eyes give away every untrained man.
“Jim, people in the company could not care less. The public could not care less. There are only two people, who do. My boss, who thinks himself big shot, and your eastern friend, who is the big shot. Now, you look out the window carefully and what you would see, if it wasn‘t for dark, would be a surveillance car. I‘ve got them set up on my heels. Why? Leak. Someone leaked. And I suspect…”
“What?!”
“…I SUSPECT that it was from your network. Listen carefully Jim, for I am in no mood of repeating, I can help you, but not now. You have brought the hunters upon my trail and they are setting up traps in front of my den. No matter, I can still help you. But… not… today.”
“Surveillance car? Shit… I don‘t know. I didn‘t want for the things to go this far.”
“We never do, Jim.”
“How long have they been following ya?”
“Just a few days.”
“God damn it, if they are outside I can‘t get outta here during the night, I have to wait for the chaos upon the morrow!”
Bad move. Fuck! Fuck, fuck, fuck. I should have known better. Now I‘ll have to stay here the whole night.
“How is your wife holding up? Did you tell her?”
“She‘s gone, Paul. She left for work yesterday and never showed up. Not in the work, not back home in the evening. I mean… The guy has manners, you know, I think he wouldn‘t do it, but at the same time if a man finds dagger stabbed in his back, he freaks out, naturally. If he touched her, I‘m fucked. I can‘t do anything. I got no guns, luckily, for I can‘t really shoot. I don‘t trust hired guns – a bunch of sleazy cunts who will turn cloaks as soon as they are out of sight. I mean… I‘m all on defence now. And I love her, Jim, that‘s why I am here. I am a mean bastard at times, with clear mind, solely focused on business, but when it comes to women and my wife especially, I lose it. They are so lovely… Her… her scent…”
“Jim?”
“Paul?”
“Shut up. Just shut up, please.”
“Why Paul? What‘s wrong? You ain‘t feelin‘ all right?”
Paul sighed and walked over to the window. He opened it, just a little, but wide enough to let in some fresh air. The night smelled of the sea. Seagull screams were to be heard sporadically, as there has never been a moment in their whole existence when they would shut up and let the silence be. Jim is just like Seagulls, Paul realized. Shitting, shouting and eating garbage.

Jim loves her. He will wait for her. He‘s not going to hide. They were a beautiful couple. He will imagine her showing up on the doorstep, but the only person showing up on his doorstep will be his eastern friend, gun in hand. Jim will talk. Police is not going to care – as long as it is mobs killing mobs, preferably in private, the cops are happy. Jim doesn‘t know it yet, but he is a dead man. Jim will talk and pray and hope for redemption. They are after me, though. My articles, my “investigation” fed by Jim‘s information cost them too much and too many of their seasoned men are behind bars. Jim got the profit from decaying competition, I got money from him and at the same time I fought for justice… albeit with, different means let‘s say. Something went wrong, something in the last week, or two weeks. One article, one word gave me away. They probably suspected Jim could be up to something, but they wouldn‘t know unless his actions & knowledge correlated with the newspaper articles. Every line matters. Every word leads the reader by hand on a slippery slope. One wrong choice and the reader slips and is forever gone. Journalist‘s work is a hard one. Nevertheless, I‘ve got other options. I am fine. But Jim… Jim never listens to what I have to say, he asks for advice but never waits for the answer.
“Paul” Jim whispered, his voice hushed.
It interrupted the stream of thoughts in Paul‘s mind and he realized he‘s been staring out of the window for quite some time.
“Paul” Jim whispered once more.
Paul turned around and saw Jim standing, looking tired, pale and utterly hopeless. He had a gun in hand, aiming at Paul‘s chest.
“Paulie” he sobbed, “I‘m not here for advice. I came for you. He‘ll understand. He‘ll return Julia to me… I cannot take any chances.”
“Jim…” started Paul.
“NO!” shouted Jim, but his voice trembled.
“You have no plan, Paulie. If I go to hiding, Julia‘s dead. I can‘t let that happen.”
This is the end, then. It came sooner than I expected.
“I did it for justice.”
“So you did and your justice almost got me killed. I love you, Paulie…”

The loud, sharp crack, scared a flock of seagulls resting on top of a Readers‘ Frontier building on 6th avenue. Apart from them, no one heard it. It was the hour of the wolf and people who would care were asleep. In the morning a telephone rang in the local police station. A tired voice answered, an officer at the end of his shift hoping to go home, but that wish quickly evaporated as a trembling voice of a cleaning lady reported a homicide not three blocks away from the station. He gave up the thought of sleep and left for the crime scene. The body was searched, but no ID was found. Fingerprint tests were run, but there was no match. He was nobody. On the table was a typewriter with freshly finished record reporting a list of felonies done by a person called James Hatchet. There was no identification of the author. Only at the bottom it was signed. It said:

Forever yours,

Bearer

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About Petr Klíma